Advocates of big government never miss a chance to capitalize on a natural disaster. Even before the storm has passed, they will boast that without activist government, recovery would be impossible. Peddlers of this line ask us to imagine what life would be like today — in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy — without FEMA and the state and local emergency agencies. This, they say, is the condition to which opponents of big government would reduce the country.
But the statists lack imagination.
If you wonder what life would be like without a particular government agency, it is not enough simply to subtract the agency from a picture of our current world. That would imply a rather disparaging view of the human race. If there were no FEMA, would people just sit around in the rubble for the rest of their lives? Or would they do something, learn from their experience, and take precautions to minimize damage in the future?
To think people would not or could not do these things unless enlightened politicians were there to help them is to misconstrue the nature of government. What exactly does it bring to the table? Wealth? No, wealth is produced by people in the marketplace. Whatever wealth government has was extracted from producers. Competence and ingenuity? No again. These are attributes of people who would be working in the private economy if they weren’t lured into government employment.
The only thing government has that no one else has is the legal power to use force against peaceful people — the power to tax, to regulate, and to grant special privileges. That’s it. Anything creative and useful for recovery from a disaster already exists in civil society. No bully is needed.
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Sheldon Richman (photo) is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of The Freeman magazine.